NORTH PORT, Fla. — Austin Riley is a franchise cornerstone for the Braves.
That’s the implication when an organization signs a player to a 10-year, $212 million contract extension. Riley is a big part of the Braves’ core.
Last summer, he spent a few months as a realistic MVP candidate. Now, he’s looking to continue his ascension in the game.
Ahead of opening day, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did Q&As with several key Braves players.
Q: With Dansby Swanson gone, how comfortable are you stepping into a larger leadership role going forward?
A: I’m ready to (do) whatever the situation calls (for). Dansby, obviously we’re gonna miss him as a leader, on and off the field. I’ve said it a ton of times and I’ll say it again: (President of baseball operations) Alex (Anthopoulos) has done a good job of getting good dudes. I don’t think there’s going to be a situation where one guy is going to have to say something. I think the clubhouse monitors itself. To me, I’m gonna be a guy – and I’ve always wanted to be this guy – (that’s) just someone that guys can come up to for whatever. Whatever this situation is, I’m gonna be there to listen and be a teammate that’s there to help.
Q: You know how a clubhouse works, and the rest of us do not. Is it more beneficial to have a bunch of guys who can lead versus one guy who’s expected to lead?
A: There’s something to be said about a team that has a bunch of guys that have the same mindset, the same goals. The clubhouse camaraderie is second to none. We’re always kind of on the same page, for the most part. 162 (games) is a long season, and the tighter you can be as a group, I think the better. And that’s what we’ve kind of established here. I think it’s good.
Q: If you could go back and tell yourself – the kid who came out of high school and entered the organization – one main lesson you’ve learned up here, what would it be?
A: Trust the process. For sure, trust the process. I was 0-for-23, or something, before I got my first professional hit, like 14 strikeouts. I was getting tweeted that I was gonna be a pitcher by September. Those failures are what made me into the player I am today. I think it’s like I said, just trust the process and know it’s a game of failure and know that you’re gonna come out as a better player at the end of it.
(The first recorded stats for Riley’s pro career say he went 1-for-22 with 11 strikeouts in rookie ball to begin his career. In that 2015 season, he ended up hitting .304 with a .933 OPS. Things have worked out since for him.)
Q: When you were so young, how did you deal with the tweets and the posts from people you didn’t even know?
A: For me, I like it. I think it’s fun. You’re callousing your mind to be tough and mentally strong. In this game, you gotta be that. For me, it helps. It strengthens your mind.
Q: You’ve said you’re now working with a mental skills coach. How’s that going?
A: Oh, it’s good. It’s great. Learning to, more or less, rewire your brain to think of situations of just the awareness of, when you do go through those struggles, what’s prolonging it? Whether it’s a mechanical issue, (or) maybe it could be just a 100% mental issue. Maybe you’re mentally tired, and it’s just like, can I step away and be aware of what’s the cause, and then come up with a plan or a solution for that.
Q: I don’t know if you remember this, but last year I asked you who would have a breakout season (for the Braves). You said Kyle Wright. You nailed it. Who’s your pick for this year? No pressure.
(After thinking about it for a minute, Riley asks if he can think about it for a bit. So, stay tuned.)
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